By Mike Claver
Holbrook, New York, February 1, 2016 – There are two days that drain us of our vitality. They are days over which we have no control. Those days are yesterday and tomorrow. Brian Petras, successful Sea to Shining Sea rider with World T.E.A.M. Sports, taught us all to live in the present, each day to the best of our ability – no whining – no pity parties – no excuses. That’s Brian.
Thirty years isn’t a long time to have lived. Yet Brian packed more life and adventure into his three decades than most of us will have in three times that many years.
Few people would ever think of setting out to cross the United States on a bicycle; fewer still the number of those who would do it with a prosthetic leg. Few people will ever run the Boston Marathon; fewer still the number of those who do it with a prosthetic leg. Few people push on to get their college degree while taking chemo; fewer still the number of those who would complete their degree after learning their cancer had returned, and the prognosis wasn’t good.
During the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea cross country bicycle ride, I met a man who would go on and do all of these things. On that ride, he nearly severed a finger in the spokes of his bicycle on a snowy day in Utah. He had it stitched up and returned to complete his day’s ride of 80 miles on snowy roads. When I asked him how he did it, Brian removed his prosthetic leg, held it up, and said, “I’ve had worse.”
I saw him play baseball in the parking lot of a Colorado motel using his prosthetic leg as a bat. He hit the ball quite far, and ran to first base on his remaining leg. When he got to first, I asked him how he could do that. He looks at me, and says, “It’s no big deal. I’ve turned a lot of doubles and triples into singles.”
The Cherokee Indians have a rich legacy of Native American wisdom in the form of proverbs. One such proverb speaks to us of the things we feel today. It goes like this. “On the day you were born, the world rejoiced and you cried. Live your life so that on the day you die, you rejoice and the world cries.” That’s Brian.
If he could tell us anything today, he might tell me to stop writing about him. I’m talking too long again making a big deal out of him, but likely it would be in the form of a blessing. I think he’d say something like this from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “There are dreams of love, life, and adventure in all of us. But, we are also sadly filled with reasons why we shouldn’t try. These reasons seem to protect us, but in truth, they imprison us. They hold life at a distance. Life will be over sooner than we think. If we have bikes to ride and people to love, now is the time.”
In his essay, “God Is No Fool” by Louis Cheney he says this: “People important to you, cross your life, touch it, and move on. Children leave parents; friends leave friends. Acquaintances move on. Friends love and move. We believe in God’s Master Plan for our lives. He moves people in and out of each other’s lives and each leaves his mark on the other. When we examine our lives, we find that we are made up of the bits and pieces of all who ever touched our lives. We are more because of it, and we would be less if they had not touched us.”
“Many poets have told us of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. But Dante, in his journeying came upon another, the Eunoe. ‘To taste the sunny waters of the Eunoe is to have recalled all the gladsome and glorious and perfect things one has experienced. Eunoe runs beside the track all through the valley of the shadow, and a wise soul will often kneel, and lift a handful of its refreshing water to their thirsty lips and thank God for the splendor they have known.'” (Arthur John Gossip)
At what point and for how long our lives intersect is far less important than what happens when they do. Every day, I will thank God that the paths of our lives crossed with Brian’s.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Air Force veteran Brian Petras passed on January 23, 2016 in Akron, Ohio. Successfully crossing North America in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2010 Sea to Shining Sea bicycle and hand cycle ride with injured veterans, Brian served as ride mechanic for the non-profit organization’s 2014 CanAm Veterans’ Challenge from Ottawa, Ontario to Washington, DC. Serving numerous overseas tours with the Air Force, Brian retired in July, 2012 after eight years with the service. A recent Kent State University graduate with a Bachelor of Integrated Studies with a minor in Biology, Brian was a New Jersey native.
Mike Claver is a retired State Farm employee who served as ride director for the 2012 Sea to Shining Sea ride. He was a key volunteer for the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea ride and assisted with the planning for the 2014 CanAm Veterans’ Challenge. Mike also has volunteered for Face of America, including this April’s new Valley Forge to Gettysburg route, and is helping with the planning for the upcoming 2017 CanAm Veterans’ Challenge.